Didn’t realize until a few years ago Cleveland had an AsiaTown? It's been tucked in East 18th-40th, between St. Clair and Payne, since about 1860. The mix of smokestacks, residential streets and nouveau Asian architecture against the backdrop of the downtown skyline creates an eclectic atmosphere unlike anything else in this city.
But this isn’t your average “Chinatown.” Here you’ll find mingling the cultures and delicacies of China, Vietnam, Japan, Philippines, India, Korea, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
It's a Cleveland treasure. What better spot for your favorite urban treasure hunt?
Moving the Cleveland Flea to Tyler Village wasn't an accident. Introducing you to lesser-known pockets of the city is our jam. It's easy to get wrapped up in the to/fro of the Flea. Consider this your reminder to stop, look and listen before you cross the street next time you're in the neighborhood. AsiaTown isn't just someplace to park. Spend the day here (and stop by the Flea).
Three tastes of AsiaTown
The most inconvenient truth about stomachs: limited capacity. A real taste of AsiaTown isn't a one-trip deal; it's a great problem to have. Restaurants serve up dim sum, fresh fish, bi bim bab and pho. Your best bet is to use this list as a to-do. Need a starting point? Here are three top picks:
1. Korea House (3700 Superior Ave)
Located across the street from Tyler Village, Korea House is a Korean barbecue favorite. It's quiet, calm and casual with an unintimidating atmosphere for anyone shaky on new-food spots. Bonus: autographs on the walls from celebs (plenty of baseball players; we sat next to Grady Sizemore's scribble) who've ducked into the place and loved it too.
What to order? You can't go wrong with dolsot bi bim bab — warm white rice mixed with seasoned vegetables, chili pepper paste and savory sauces, topped with a fried egg. We suggest getting it with kimchi. (Pro tip: it's served still-cooking in a hot dolsot pot; let it sit a minute to let a layer of rice get crispy).
2. Battle of the Pho: Superior vs. #1
Superior Pho (3030 Superior) and #1 Pho (3120 Superior Ave) make some of the city's best bowls of pho — slurpable noodle soups served with meats and herbs. We can't say which is our favorite; you'll just have to try them both. (Although we do have to give Superior Pho the nod for best bánh mì.)
In true survival-of-the-fittest fashion, however, each of the neighborhood's Vietnamese spots brings their A-game when it comes to pho. So, scratch that. Try them all, report back.
3. Map of Thailand + Koko Bakery (3710 Payne)
Is there such thing as love at first tagline? Like all good one-liners, we giggled when we saw Map of Thailand's: "It happens to be a Thai restaurant." In fact, we think it's a great one.
What to order? Green curry and masaman curry are brightly flavored picks for spring, served with vegetables cooked to just the right crunch. Talk to your waiter to give your dish more/less spicy kick. Under most circumstances, we'd next say order mango + sticky rice for dessert, but if next-door Koko Bakery is open, well, you might need to double-dessert it. Koko Bakery blends fine French pastry with Asian-inspired sweets. Their long-list of bubble tea flavors is something to tackle, too.
See a little, shop a little
Well-fed, now it's time to explore. Put AsiaTown's collection of shops, retail stops and town centers on your agenda. Use this list to get familiar and these three trips to get started:
Asian Town Center (3820 Superior Ave)
A couple blocks east of Tyler Village, Asian Town Center houses one of the largest Asian supermarkets in the region, a school to learn Korean, galleries, an herbalist, beauty supplies and more places to eat. The supermarket, in particular, is not to be missed. You'll find familiar favorites on the shelves (like Pocky!), uncover new ones and finally see a jackfruit in person. Take the time to try something new and appreciate the art of package design you don't really get in the West.
Yates Apothecary (2150 Rockwell Ave), the small/mighty perfume house, is worth a visit, less than one mile away. And Asia Plaza (2999 Payne Ave) includes more groceries, flowers and gift stores to explore.
Year of the Sheep
Perhaps you've seen previous years' horses, snakes, rabbits and dragons. Each year, St. Clair-Superior gives an artful nod to Lunar Chinese New Year with public art installations around the neighborhood. February 2015 began the Year of the Sheep. Local artists will create a handful of sheep sculptures, which will be displayed by local businesses this May and auctioned off in the fall. Learn more about this public art project and explore the neighborhood to see how many sheep you can count.
Cleveland Asian Festival (May 16-17)
Where else will you find cultural enlightenment, international cuisine and health screenings in one place? The annual Cleveland Asian Festival packs a world of food, ethnic dance traditions, fashion, children's activities, health education, music and martial arts into a few city blocks and two days. Also: sumo wrestling and eating contests are on the agenda! If you can't spend the full 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. on-site both days, consult the festival schedule to plan your day(s)!